Madame Butterfly – A Feast of Ballet

Enjoying food as much as I do, it’s sometimes difficult to think that some people see it primarily as a source of fuel rather than enjoyment.
And although I can’t imagine a life of rabbit food, or favouring a big green salad over pie and mash, some argue that this is how we should look at food. But what kind of life would that be?
Aside from needing to lose a few pounds, I don’t really worry too much about the nutritional content of my diet. It’s varied; I like a bit of this and a bit of that (and a bit too much of the other) and if I feel I’ve over indulged a bit too much I’ll go veggie for a few days in some half arsed attempt of a detox. And I suspect that a fair few of you share similar diets.
The sedentary job doesn’t help though, and from time to time I wonder if I would prefer something which required me to follow a healthy lifestyle; just as my office job forces me out of bed on a morning, I’d like one that requires me to achieve and maintain a six pack. But, let’s face it, I probably wouldn’t be able to hack it for all that long…
But when I got the chance to talk to ballet dancer and actor Ayana Kanda – here for the Northern Ballet production of Madame Butterfly just last week – I was really excited to find out about the day-to-day diet of a ballerina.
For anyone who’s not seen Madame Butterfly, it’s a beautiful, heart-rending story of love and infidelity – and Northern Ballet's production is as a graceful as the lepidoptera of the title. Catching up with Ayana at her flat, I was intrigued by the work that the performers have to put in, diet-wise but surprised to learn that far from living off shadows, Ayana enjoys her food as much as anyone else. Although her diet is obviously very important, she's a keen baker and has even been known to wolf down the odd bag of Doritos from time to time! Japanese in heritage, Ayana is lucky enough to have been brought up on a diet which naturally leads itself to healthy eating, so she can enjoy her food whilst ensuring her nutritional needs are looked after.

Following advice from her mum, Ayana eats a lot of vegetables and high energy foods to ensure that she has a sufficient calorific intake to keep fit and healthy for dancing. Eating seasonal foods is something that I’m keen to try and do, mainly because I believe we should make the most of what we have on our doorstep rather than have foods flown in from distant lands. Ayana, however chooses to eat seasonally for a different reason; she finds that seasonal food helps her body achieve the right nutritional balance for the time of year. So, in summer she’ll eat tomatoes and cucumbers as she needs extra hydration in the heat.
And talk about a varied diet! Ayana tries to eat 30 different things a day. This sounds like a lot, but when you consider that a bowl of museli probably has around 8 different types of seeds, nuts and fruits in there, that 30 isn’t entirely unmanageable.  Ginger is well known for its health benefits and it’s something that we’ll often reach for when we’ve got a sore throat or a cold. Ayana, however will try and include it in her daily diet as it’s good for circulation and tasty too…
When Ayana’s between performances she’ll kick her day off with a decent breakfast of museli or cereal with yogurt. In colder months she’ll have porridge or Chinese rice with green beans. Come lunch and she’ll keep it simple and have some white rice with vegetables, a banana and maybe a biscuit or some chocolate. At dinner it’s time to have some protein; either a piece of meat or fish with some more white rice and veg. Simple dishes designed to meet her nutritional needs, but they’re also quick and easy to prepare. Things do get trickier when Ayana’s performing, mainly due to the timing of the performances and her need to fit her meals around them, but she’ll stick to similar meals, just with a lighter lunch.
Ayana is also keen to ensure her dishes are tasty and that she can enjoy her meal times and she’s shared one her favourite recipes with me. It’s something she’s cooking for a long time, and she started cooking this for her family when she was just six years old!


4 Salmon Fillets
500g of mushrooms of your choice, roughly chopped
1 onion, finely sliced
Juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon of either sake or white wine
½ tablespoon of soy sauce
Black pepper for seasoning
2 red chillies, sliced
Parsley to serve
1. Take four pieces of kitchen foil (30cm X 20cm) and divide the onion slices between the sheets.
2. Place the salmon fillets on top of the onions and season with black pepper.
3. Drizzle over the sake or white wine and add divide the mushrooms amongst the four fillets.
4. Wrap each fillet up in its foil to create a sealed parcel.
5. Fill a large, shallow frying pan half full with boiling water.
6. Place the Salmon parcels in the pan, cover with a lid and leave to cook on a medium heat for 15-20 minutes.
7. Serve the salmon with the chillies, a drizzle of soy sauce, a squeeze of lemon and some of the parsley.
This is such a simple, tasty dish and would work nicely with some boiled rice and a big green salad. It’s one that you can add your own twist to as you could use any fish and add a variety of vegetables to the parcel; try some broccoli, some julienned carrots, spring onions or leeks. Play around with the flavours too. You could add some fresh coriander, lemon grass & kaffir lime leaves, or whatever fresh herbs you have to hand.

Ok, so you might not want to eat white rice and steamed salmon every day, but once in a while, a simple and fresh tasting dish is just what the doctor ordered. Which healthy meal do you reach for when you’re feeling in need of a bit of a detox?

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